It Was in the Early Spring, Op.38/2; The Fearful Moment, Op.28/6; The Mild Stars Shone For Us, Op.60/12; If Only I Had Known, Op.47/1
Six Verses of Marina Tsvetayeva, Op.143
Why?, Op.6/5; My Genius, My Angel, My Friend; None But The Lonely Heart, Op.6/6; Does The Day Reign?, Op.47/6
Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 24 January, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Tchaikovsky’s songs reflect his ability as a melodist, and if programmed appropriately can span a wide range of emotion. Stotijn’s first group of four was a case in point, with Julius Drake mastering the extended and often tricky piano parts, which often hold the crux of the song. The mezzo-soprano’s voice had a slight but agreeable husk in “The Fearful Moment”, where she was also visually expressive, while Drake added a solemn closing paragraph. More striking still was “If Only I Had Known”, its austerity and frank emotion bringing it closer to Shostakovich than could be thought possible. There was optimism, too, with the wide-open-spaces painted by the piano in “It Was in the Early Spring” tempered only somewhat by the yearning of Stotijn, as she described a mixture of memories both good and bad.
Shostakovich wrote his cycle of Marina Tsvetayeva verses under the shadow of ill-health in 1973. The words of the poetess struck a particularly poignant response with him, his settings achieving a directness and simplicity of style illustrated by a near complete lack of musical padding, with mezzo-soprano and piano often assigned one line each. As the pair led straight from the fourth song (‘The poet and the Tsar’) to the fifth (‘Not a drum was heard’) there was a sourness of tone to Stotijn’s voice that was most disconcerting, with Drake’s piano hardly less intense in its response. Stotijn kept a commanding presence even – especially – when singing quietly, a quality that made ‘Hamlet’s dialogue with his conscience’ completely captivating. The piano was often hollow in its lower register, Drake playing slightly within himself but revealing the bare bones of the music.
The cycle ended with the merest hint of optimism in a major key, a starting-point from which a selection of popular Tchaikovsky songs could begin. “None but the lonely heart”, his most popular song, was beautifully performed, stretching its sense of longing, while the powerfully wrought “Why?” doubled back on itself with a strangely ruminative coda. “My Genius, My Angel, My Friend” found her eschewing all vibrato for a striking closing verse, while in the glorious “Whither the day reigns”, Stotijn cast off all inhibitions, filling the hall with song. Her exuberance extended to the first of two Tchaikovsky encores, “The Cuckoo”. Here she charmingly inhabited the characters, introduced in an amusing synopsis by Julius Drake, while “How fair this spot” found her indulging us in a self-proclaimed favourite of the composer.